When it comes to getting over the emotional hurts of failure, it really doesn’t matter how good or bad your personal history is. The only thing that matters is that you face your fear and get moving. — John C. Maxwell, author
Too often, the biggest barrier to making a change or taking a positive step in life is that other F-word. FEAR. It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting over after serving time, regrouping after a divorce or simply trying to get a new project (or long-neglected blog) up and running.
I was reminded of this last night as I sat with a group of 8th graders who will be making their confirmation in our local Catholic church this May. My role as discussion leader was to go around the circle and have each teen share something that scared them.
As you might expect, there was plenty of nervous laughter. I also got a few shrugs and attempts to change the subject. One girl pecked away at her cellphone as if she might find the answer there. But nobody wanted to volunteer that they were afraid of anything. God forbid. It was easier to talk around it or challenge the need to even discuss the subject.
Finally, just when I was despairing we’d spend the rest of our time in silence, a boy I’ll call Andy spoke up. “Spiders,” he said. “They creep me out.”
The other teens laughed and the tension was broken. Suddenly our circle awash with fears. Bugs. Snakes. Heights. One boy even confessed to being terrified of getting run down by a car. Sure, these weren’t likely their deepest, darkest fears, or the one they would never voice — looking foolish in front of each other. But at least these kids were sharing something and learning they weren’t alone.
Afterwards, the event moderators upped the stakes by asking for volunteers for a series of “Fear Factor” type challenges. Teens competed to eat bowls of repulsive-looking “mystery” food. Some ran an obstacle course with dog biscuits or smelly fish in their mouths. Two girls picked live bugs out of jars of candy. By the end of the night, Andy, from my group, was up in front of more than 100 of his peers, racing to finish off a suspicious-looking green goo and whipped cream pie.
This all happened over the course of about twenty minutes with a group of self-conscious 13 and 14 year olds. That’s what got me thinking about John C. Maxwell’s quote above. Maxwell, who’s written two dozen books on leadership and maximizing your potential, has spent years studying the secrets of successful people. In his bestselling book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, he advocates learning from your errors, but leaving them in the past. Too many people become mired in replaying their failures and unable to move forward. The only way to get over your fear, he says, is to take action. Even if it’s just one small step towards your objective.
So what one step can you take for your future today? Is it making a list of employers? Going to a 12-step meeting? Following up with your friend about that potential part-time job? Researching degree requirements at the local community college? Taking your sister up on her offer to watch the kids so you can visit your local employment center?
Whatever that step is, try to handle it like my teens eventually did. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t fret.
Just do it.